Apple caps online iPhone buys in some countries

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Reuters reported that the notice of a two-device limit per model for online iPhone purchases was also displayed in the U.S. (Pixabay)

After announcing the closure of all retail stores outside of Greater China earlier this week, Apple appears to be limiting the number of iPhones customers can buy online to two devices per model in a number of countries.

As first reported by Reuters, checks on Apple websites show a notice above device information listing that iPhone purchases are limited to two devices per customer for each model. The notice was on websites for some locations including, China, Hong Kong, Taiwan, and Singapore.

Reuters reported that the iPhone limit was also displayed in the U.S., but FierceWireless did not observe the device limit notification during its own checks of Apple’s U.S. website.  

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The limits come the same week as Apple closed doors on all of its retail stores outside of mainland China in response to the global COVID-19 (coronavirus) pandemic and in an effort to maximize social distancing. First Apple said stores would be closed until the end of March but that timeline now appears indefinite as Apple updated closures to extend “until further notice.”

Apple operates an estimated 506 stores worldwide, including 272 in the U.S., according to the MercuryNews. All of Apple’s stores in Greater China had been reopened by March 13, after closures in response to the virus outbreak in the country.

It’s unclear why Apple’s imposing online order limits in some regions, though Nicole Peg from research firm Canalys told Reuters it’s likely to prevent scalpers from stockpiling and reselling devices.

Although carriers often offer "buy one get one free" offers, Cliff Maldonado of BayStreet Research, speaking to FierceWireless earlier this month, noted that consumers usually get new devices coinciding with upgrades, and indicated it’s not often an average customer needs two new phones.

With retail stores closed globally, scalpers may see an online opportunity, Peng told the news outlet, pointing to a similar situation in the past during iPhone launches in Asia when scalpers sold to mainland China where the devices were more difficult to buy at that point.

In February, Apple said its expected revenue forecasts would take a hit during the quarter due to impact from coronavirus. At the time the company said the virus outbreak restricted iPhone production and lowered device demand in China, with supply shortages from China temporarily impacting revenues globally.

RELATED: Apple revenue to take coronavirus hit

Now, however, as the COVID-19 pandemic hits globally, countries are seeing business closures and restrictions on movements, so what the full impact may look like remains to be seen. In the U.S. today, California and New York have closed all non-essential businesses and told residents to stay at home.  

Steve Mollenkopf, the CEO of chipmaker Qualcomm, speaking in a CNBC interview said that in China where handset activations dipped steeply at the end of January, they’ve seen demand and activity of consumers buying and turning on phones recover to normal levels at the beginning of March.